Most of the action of Dirt Circus League takes place in an abandoned resort.
The Dirt Circus Leaguers call it the barracks.
It’s located in the remote Cape York wilderness, hours from the nearest town. Heavy wet-season rains mean there is no way in or out for months of the year.
Why an abandoned resort?
It was practical. All the buildings already existed. I also liked the tension between people who followed strict rules living in a place made for fun.
At a holiday resort the realities of daily life disappear, replaced with eating a lot and hanging out at the pool.
Being a member of the Dirt Circus League is the opposite. Life is regimented and options are limited. They make their home in and among falling down buildings and live in hardship.
And this is a deliberate choice. The league members do nothing to fix up the abandoned resort. Instead of cleaning up the swimming pool they let it turn into a pond of green slime inhabited by frogs.
Mould creeps up walls and across what is left of ceilings.
They live in buildings that are falling apart as the rainforest slowly takes it over.
The World Without Us
It’s no secret that abandoned places fascinate me. But one particular book was hugely influential — and helpful — when it came to creating a home for the Dirt Circus League.
Alan Weisman’s book The World Without Us describes how nature would move in if humans suddenly disappeared.
The book covers everything from architecture to toxic waste as Weisman talks to experts and investigates case studies from around the world to imagine a world without humans.
What plant life would thrive? How would forests recover? How would animals adapt and evolve without the threat (or protection) of humans?
Weisman’s description of the abandoned resort town of Varosha was especially useful.
He wrote about empty swimming pools that “reeked as though filled with cadavers”.
In Varosha, “roofs had collapsed and trees were growing straight out of houses”.
It was a place where trees, shrubs and flowers “sprout from nooks where indoors and outdoors now blend”.
I borrowed several of those elements, along with experiences of resorts I’d visited in the past, to create the barracks.
Why call it "the barracks"?
The name “barracks” conjures up images of a stark place with no home comforts where recruits live a life ruled by order and discipline.
It’s also the name of an actual place in Brisbane, Australia, where I live now. Built in 1860, the Barracks was first a jail and later used as a barracks for the police and then the defence force.
The site was abandoned in the 1990s and for years the once beautiful red-brick buildings were left to rot.
It was a wreck but luckily renovated before trees started growing through the roof.
And the name was just what I needed, so win-win.
The World Without Us by Alan Weisman (2007) (quotes from pages 94-97).
Photo credit: The Barracks, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland https://hdl.handle.net/10462/deriv/194975